Just a few weeks after securing a contract extension and a week after celebrating a Cotton Bowl victory, Blake Baker, the defensive coordinator for Missouri, has departed from the program to assume the same position at Louisiana State. This decision was confirmed by the Post-Dispatch and comes shortly after Baker’s contract extension with MU.
Baker previously coached LSU’s linebackers during the 2021 season before joining Columbia. Following LSU coach Brian Kelly’s decision to dismiss the entire defensive staff after a season that was impressive offensively but lacking defensively in 2023, Baker’s name quickly emerged as a top candidate for the vacant position.
The timing of Baker’s move is unexpected, especially considering his recent contract extension and his prior decisions to reject other coaching opportunities earlier in the coaching carousel cycle to stay with Mizzou.
“A significant factor in my decision, honestly, revolves around my happiness and the well-being of my family in Columbia,” Baker shared with reporters leading up to the Cotton Bowl. “While there were some potential opportunities elsewhere, working for Coach (Eli Drinkwitz) is truly phenomenal.
He exemplifies first-class conduct in everything he does. Moreover, I believe we still have unfinished business here at Missouri. Overall, I never really entertained the idea of going anywhere else. It was a no-brainer for me, as I mentioned last year when I signed the initial contract extension.”
Baker’s newly inked three-year deal with Mizzou would have guaranteed him a salary of $1.9 million for 2024, with subsequent raises to $2 million and $2.1 million in the second and third years, according to a source familiar with the negotiations.
Notably, only nine college football assistant coaches, including LSU’s recently dismissed defensive coordinator, earned $1.9 million or more during the 2023 season, as reported by USA Today’s database of assistant coaches’ salaries.
This places Baker among the highest-paid assistants in the nation, a significant increase from his previous salary of $1.1 million.
Under the terms of his new agreement, Baker will be required to pay Missouri University (MU) a buyout fee of $950,000 as he accepts another college coordinator position.
Although the precise details of Baker’s new salary at LSU remain unclear, Missouri demonstrated a willingness to elevate his salary from $1.9 million to counter offers from other Southeastern Conference schools.
This suggests that LSU either offered a salary exceeding $3 million or Baker’s decision was not primarily driven by financial considerations.
Following his successful overhaul of the defense, transforming it into one of the Southeastern Conference’s most improved units in 2022, MU acknowledged Baker’s contributions with his first salary increase, which preceded the recently granted contract extension.
Baker’s departure introduces a shakeup to the coaching staff that steered Missouri to an impressive 11-win season and a notable Cotton Bowl victory over No. 7 Ohio State.
DJ Smith, the linebackers coach, assumes the role of the Tigers’ second-in-command for the defense, holding titles such as co-defensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator. Smith, who followed Coach Drinkwitz to Missouri from Appalachian State, may be considered for an expanded role. He was appointed co-defensive coordinator shortly after Baker’s initial hiring.
As Missouri faces the departure of key defensive contributors to the NFL, the closure of the NCAA transfer portal on January 2 prevents players from transferring due to Baker’s exit, at least in the immediate future. Another transfer portal window will open in the latter half of April, following the conclusion of football programs’ spring practices.
Baker’s legacy at Mizzou is highlighted by the Cotton Bowl triumph, where he played a crucial role in keeping Ohio State’s offense out of the red zone for the first time since a 2016 bowl game. Additionally, he contributed to the development of players like safety Jaylon Carlies, who recently declared for the NFL Draft.
While Baker did not play at LSU, his connection to the university is notable, as his wife was an All-SEC soccer player there. Baker departed the Bayou Bengals when the current LSU coach, Brian Kelly, chose not to retain him as the linebackers coach following Kelly’s hiring in 2022.